Fishtank

by Bindu Bansinath Read author interview September 23, 2013

The thirty-third client tasted of rice vinegar, but that was Amorn’s only complaint. Amorn was number 245, denoted as wild, reputed by the orderlies as able to do any of the uncreative things the Johns fantasized about. Client 33 had a glass eye. He was the kind of man who feigned the sweetness that precedes intimacy under usual circumstances; that is, he acted as if he’d known Amorn for years, as if he was not paying for her services. Picture it as we saw it: Amorn approached him from behind the glass, he wrapped a hand around her waist, tousled one of her perfectly set curls (there were always 32) and kissed her forehead.

“Why do they call you wild, my girl?” he asked, and she did not answer then but out of necessity we will do it now: Amorn was wild because she did not revere herself and be certain that if you’d ever cared to ask her personally then the answer would be as simple as that and that would be that.

That day, Amorn was fifteen minutes late in clocking in. Her little boy was beginning to reject her breast and she had been busy heating formula. I remember we laughed at the news; Amorn must have nursed all the men in Bangkok to hell and back. It amused us. Her own son, dumb with youth, was cruel enough to refuse her.

Of course she cried. For twelve and a half minutes. Minh had to redo her makeup.

By six in the evening, we were all dressed. A room of tired women had been transfigured into powdery school dolls. Large concentrations of physical beauty render each individual unit of it bleak; this was true for everyone except Amorn. It was behind the sway of her back that we filed into the fishtank, one by one, removed our heels, unzipped any too-tight zippers, and sat behind the glass. Number tags were pinned to each girl’s left breast. Johns began to pick their numbers. Everyone was in the proper order and every girl had her right leg tucked carefully behind her left. Nothing was amiss. It was 7:42.

The going price for a girl with a blue number tag is 1,700. Amorn wore a red tag. At minimum we estimate that she cost 4,200. If you don’t believe us, please check with the orderlies. Yet at the end of the day it isn’t anything if you’ve not collected tips. Some Johns want girls who will memorize their names and then whisper the words back to them in heat-induced frenzies. Some just want fellatio. Amorn preferred the Johns who took her to dinner before they lay, though she didn’t eat anything for fear of increasing her clients’ tab. We spied on Amorn and Client 33 as he mouthed Amorn’s numbers—2-4-5—to the orderly, swiped his credit card at the front desk, and signed for her. He held her close to him all the while. We saw him saying things that made her cheeks turn pink, but it was impossible to hear. A little flirtation is gravity to those who’ve not felt anything for a while.

We will say here that still nothing was out of the norm. Amorn danced on Client 33. She gyrated around him in the sweet, untouchable circles she employed every night of work. Minh joined her. Amorn and Minh joined hands and pressed their hips together. They moved as one and made noises as if to indicate that they enjoyed such close proximity. Johns adore things like that. We do what the Johns adore.

Sometime after Amorn’s son was born, we took her to the Cotton Restaurant for a celebratory lunch. Over a platter of minced shrimp she told us,I want a simple life but it horrifies me that I have one. She batted her black eyes. Out of all of us, Amorn was the only one ever permitted to forgo false lashes. It became clear, awkwardly so, that she sought our affirmation. So some of us shrugged noncommittally and some of us did nothing at all, but as for today you’ve asked for relevant information and so we’ve all agreed to mention that moment in time.

12:31 AM. By then those of us who were not getting business knew so, and that had been most of us, blame it on business and on this world for being too beautiful in all the wrong concentrations. So we laughed and told one another good things and ate candied cherries in our fishtank until the orderly came in to ask where Amorn was. Her baby’s nanny had phoned. The child’s body was warm and dysenteric. So we very politely told the orderly that Amorn was still with her client though it was past his allotted two hours and the orderly responded with the word “fine” and an exclamation that he’d be charging Client 33 double. We instructed him to tell the nanny to try soft boiled rice and apple shavings.

“I’ll pass it along,” announced the orderly, who then slammed the door and didn’t.

Amorn’s body was still warm when we discovered it. We only went downstairs because we feared Amorn had fallen asleep beside him, or worse, tucked in his arms. It was our plan to retrieve her, because come morning, Johns hate that sort of thing. Her makeup had melted. There was no blood. Client 33 snapped her neck in what you police have dubbed a passionate accident.

We stood there with an important sense of numbness. As we stripped her naked, we saw birthmarks on her toes and shoulders. It seemed ironic that only now had we discovered them. Some of us chortled. Minh was the first to cry. And then grief broke out like uncertain applause; in a standing, sobbing ovation. None of us had any clothes with us but our own lacey black thongs and eyelet dresses. We didn’t know how to do her any dignity. So each of us helped carry the body back upstairs, and each of us helped arrange it to sit, stark naked, legs splayed open, in the fishtank. The Johns would discover it that evening. After their day jobs ended, they’d crave number 245. Some of us made bets as to whether or not they’d realize the difference. Some of us said nothing at all.

About the Author:

Bindu Bansinath is a young writer from Princeton, New Jersey, who has published in the Columbia Review, The Susquehanna Review, Damozel, and more. She is the recipient of the Eichner award in poetry. She is seventeen years old.

About the Artist:

Leslie June is a digital media professional and underwater photographer. She currently builds websites and takes photos in Asheville, NC.